So before I wrote fiction, I wrote poetry. I think. I can't 100% account for those fuzzy preschool years, but I do remember writing poetry in middle school and high school. In college, I went through a very interesting and, in my hind-sighted opinion, dark period during which I only read and wrote nonfiction. Then I wrote songs, which as every one knows is just a more metered form of poetry. After my glorious, I have 750+ copies of my CD leftover music career ended, I returned to poetry.
Back in 2007, I moved to Princeton, NJ and it's there I really rediscovered my love of fiction and, more specifically, kid's fiction. While all of this was blooming, I was reading a lot of classics and became mildly obsessed with brilliant author's who died before their time. On a personal level, I was spitting out poetry like some kind of poetry-spitting machine because I was facing my father's untimely death, watching my lifelong relationship with Christianity grow more and more tenuous, and still sort of reeling from a messy past that send me fleeing to Nashville back in 2005.
I had a lot of emotions churning around in me and they broke out in the form of free verse.
I wrote a lot of poetry about my father. I wrote a lot about my family and about lies and betrayal. I wrote a lot about God/god. I wrote a lot about my first year of marriage and these, my friends, were really the only bright bits in the whole collection. I mean, I drift toward the melancholy anyway, so it was nice to have a sweet new hubs to balance all that out.
Thing went on like this for a while. I wrote close to forty poems in a matter of months. I look back at them now and I don't even remember writing half of them. But I do remember the release of writing them. I remember the relief. The spark of recognition when I wrote something about one thing only to realize it was about another thing.
Mortality was on my mind quite a bit, and at the time of this sort of literary and writing awakening in Princeton (an excellent town in which to have an awakening) I wrote a lot about dead writers. Plath, Sexton, Woolf, Millay. Later on I'd write some poems inspired by some of favorite classics like One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Grapes of Wrath. All of this poetry writing was a huge step toward writing fiction for me. I don't write novels in verse, but I love beautiful prose. I love descriptive and figurative language, so much so that my editor is like, "Take it down a notch, Ash." Which is okay, but as I embark on this wild publishing-story-making journey, I'm glad I have those poems to fall back on. I'm glad wild and difficult times in my life made me dig deep. I'm glad I bled onto a page in verse, in a form that only had to make sense to me if I so chose, because it enabled me to grab onto that emotion and mold it into something that could make sense to everyone.
Does that make sense?
Now, I'm delving back into that poetry a bit. My current WIP deals a little with mental illness and the fear of mental illness and the fear of not belonging and the pain of mortality. Lots o' emoting going on and I find myself going back to some of my poems from that time in my life as reference. When I'm stuck on a character, I look back over my poetry, or I write a new poem from that character's perspective. Those verses will never, ever see the light of day, but the freedom of the form helps me tap into that needed emotion and saves me from putting in a lot of unnecessary visceral emotive language that can sometimes be a cop out to that emotion. So we'll see.
In farewell, here's a poem. It might make no sense to you. It might sound like total chaos. And maybe it is. But this poem helped me with my MC's mother and her story.
The moon is rising, Margaret Mary.
I’m going home now.
For all my thousands of listening ears
my tongue is still somehow,
trembling with the many words your heart
lusts after and your mind spits back
in a fiery flash of bitter endearment.
I’ve done all I can tonight, my part
relentlessly unfulfilling. You wander in the void
of that pristine piece, the daddy to your
cowering child, the perfectly round
pill to that perpetual itch.
you stay awake, scrubbing the ground
till your fingers bleed;
sanity hesitating, possible
in the frenzied quiet hours as
you create your colored hell,
your drop in the blue bottle acidic.
I cannot paint over that red stain,
rendering the raw a stale black and white
of afternoon coffee and whims.
No one can pull the sun through the rain,
flinging the shadows from your door.
The sun is his own man.
rebellious and fickle, strays from
your screams as a pen from wet paper.
So the night comes
again, like a friend who never speaks,
without hand or body to feel, to clasp.
When the dark slips from your fevered grasp,
I’ll come again, Margaret Mary.